Physiologic responses to cognitive challenge during pregnancy: Effects of task and repeat testing

Catherine Monk, William P. Fifer, Richard P. Sloan, Michael M. Myers, Emilia Bagiella, Lauren Ellman, Alicia Hurtado

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Physiological responses to stress during pregnancy are believed to influence birth outcomes. Researchers have studied pregnant women in laboratory stressor paradigms to investigate these associations, yet normative data on cardiovascular and respiratory responses to laboratory challenge during pregnancy are not yet established. To begin to establish such normative data, this study examined the effects of task and repeat stressor exposure on reactivity in third-trimester pregnant women. Thirty-one healthy pregnant women (mean age=27 years; range 18-36) between the 33rd and 39th week of pregnancy, were instrumented for continuous electrocardiography, blood pressure (BP), and respiration data. Subjects rested quietly for a 5-min baseline and then performed both a mental arithmetic stressor and a Stroop color-word-matching task, each 5 min in length and each followed by a 5-min recovery period. The order of the tasks was counterbalanced. After each 5-min period, subjects rated the period on a 10-point stress scale. Averaged across task type and challenge period, systolic and diastolic BP and respiration rate increased significantly in response to cognitive challenge, but heart rate (HR) did not. When data were examined for task and period effects, the following results emerged: the Stroop task elicited significantly greater systolic BP and HR reactivity than the arithmetic task, yet subjects rated the arithmetic task as more stressful. Averaged across task type, subjects showed greater systolic BP reactivity during the second challenge period compared to the first. Finally, women's BP tended to drift upward and did not return to baseline during the first recovery period. These findings indicate that averaging data across tasks and periods can obscure the time course of response patterns that may be important in the study of associations between maternal stress and perinatal development, as well as in other research on reactivity to repeat stress exposure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-159
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular reactivity
  • Pregnancy
  • Repeat stress exposure
  • Stress
  • Task type


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